have words

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have words (third-person singular simple present has words, present participle having words, simple past and past participle had words)

  1. (idiomatic, of two or more parties) To argue, to have an argument.
    • 1920, P. G. Wodehouse, chapter 2, in The Little Warrior:
      "It's no treat to me to 'and the dishes when the atmosphere's what you might call electric. . . ."
      "Did they have words?"
      Parker shook his head impatiently.
      "That sort don't have words, Ellen. They just sit and goggle."
  2. (idiomatic, of one party, followed by with) To speak sternly, angrily, or in an argumentative manner to.
    • 1890, George MacDonald, chapter 47, in A Rough Shaking:
      Clare was for a while protected by the man's unreadiness to have words with his brother, who always took his wife's part.
    • 1975 December 8, “Gratton, Toros talk”, in Ottawa Citizen, retrieved 24 Aug. 2010:
      Gratton has had a series of meetings with Toros president John F. Bassett since he quit the Blues last week after having words with coach Garry Young.
    • 2003 December 18, Martin Wainwright, “Happy Chip on a natural high”, in guardian.co.uk, retrieved 24 Aug. 2010:
      "This man is highly irresponsible," a spokeswoman tells the Post. "We definitely want to have words with him."

Usage notes[edit]

  • The expressions have words and have words with may also be used literally, to mean, respectively, "to converse" or "to converse with". Only context can distinguish usages of the literal senses from usages of idiomatic senses.